A Fantastic Woman Movie Review
A Fantastic Woman is nothing short of fantastic
Although the title to Sebastian Lelio's Spanish picture is palpably on the nose, the story and the way it's told is at once obscure and brilliant. It's at once fantastical and grounded in its realism. And it's at once one of the most moving tales of grief and the coping of loss I have seen in years, as well as it is a tale of hope and female empowerment.
Orlando's ex-wife states with unmitigated certainty to our protagonist "when I look at you I don't know what I am seeing, a chimera, that's what I am seeing". Such sadistic words pierce the tender and vulnerable skin of Marina(Daniela Vega), as her transgender figure is compared to the Greek mythology viscous fire-breathing female monster, whose covering consists of a lions head, a goats body, and a serpent's tale. Along with her seemingly endless journey for resolution, she passes by torn walls with hints of goats, lions, and serpents as a backdrop, as the camera follows with smooth tracking shots, daring us to take our eyes off the breathtaking performance of Vega. Who embodies the distinct emotion and confidence that was normalcy a century ago from the silent movie stars.
The film opens to a confined shot of Niagara Falls, accompanied by a mystic and mysterious score that would help this melodrama traverse being a maudlin tale of loss as it flirts with being Hitchcockian in the way it keeps its characters and audience in the dark. This film boasts numerous shots as captivating as this. As Marina's hallucinations caused by grief are always poignant and fanciful. Take the shot where she glides down the Chilean streets to her beautiful voice singing a classical Baroque period piece, as the wind pushes against her to the point where she can no longer move forward. As the metaphorical force of a denounced society tries to push back, dehumanizing our protagonist, complicating her "basic human rights". The wind like the camera seems to stalk Marina, as well as the piercing red shadows that convey a sense of frustration, a clear nod to Vittorio Storaro's camerawork in 'The Conformist'.
Unlike the confused and caitiff Marcello Clerici in 'The Conformist', Marina is capable as she takes head on a society that ceaselessly endeavors to incarcerate Vega into the confines of her sexuality. Leaving her only one option, and that is to fight for equality. Something that seems to pertain to America's current climate of race and gender discrimination.
With the death of her former lover behind her, Marina so desperately yearns to be apart of the passing process. Orlando's(her once "twice her age" boyfriend) relatives, however, have different plans, as they harass the innocent widow to the brink of despair. The police find her equally revolting, and are skeptical as to the death of Orlando(Francisco Reyes), as his stroke leads to minor bruises as he tumbled down the stairs of the couples apartment. However, with the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" mentality Marina brings a dominance and perseverance to the silver screen making every glance and glare felt rather than seen. Making the upbeat Kelly Clarkson hit song Stronger(what doesn't kill you) look inferior as Vega uses the words not to sell records, but to inspire.
It's a shame Daniela Vega was not nominated for an Oscar, although the film she carries fortunately was. She brings the same toned emotion and fervor to her role as Sally Hawkins in 'The Shape of Water', both of whom portray discernible emotion in facial expression rather than words. Both movies tell true stories, despite being other-worldly fiction. Tales of genuine love, seen through the eyes of what society claims to be the "handicapped". Nonetheless, Sebastian Lelio and Guillermo Del Toro have formulated two of the most enchanting and humane pictures at the Oscars.
The world in which Marina inhabits is brazenly colorful, filled with reflection. As the film plays between being a tragedy and a noir. Yet most brilliantly is the way it toys with the human conscious. Wholly utilizing Lacan's psychological theory of the mirror stage. Which states that infants when looking in the mirror do not recognize themselves. Such an idea has been used countless times in cinema. Usually from a males perspective, infamous shots from 'Breathless', 'Citizen Kane', and 'Taxi Driver', or in a female's case 'Cleo from 5 to 7'. And now in 'A Fantastic Woman', as Marina constantly looks in the mirror unsure of what she has become, and unsure of what is to come. But what the audience sees when she studies herself in the mirror is recognizable and human, we see a fantastic woman.
Side Note: The key that belonged to Orlando's read 181. Marina thought this key held the answers to her problems. This is a reference to the painting 'The Farewell to Telemachus and Eucharis' which was crafted in 1818. A painting that told the story of forbidden lovers, as it famously portrayed the contrast between masculine machismo and female emotion. The illustration is also well known for its harsh contrast in reds and blues, a contrast seen constantly in 'A Fantastic Woman', and it can be seen at the Getty Museum.